Brisbane Local Food

Growing local

This is just a short note to let you know about an experiment I made with a wicking bed.

About a year ago, I trialled a wicking rectangular garden bed (about 1.8m x 1.2m) with about 300 mm tin sides, and I placed some cheap cat litter dishes (8 of them) in the bottom on the soil base without using the plastic lining. Then I filled the bed with soil similar to normal wicking beds.  The plants grew very well, but during the very hot weather recently, I did not water them enough and the herb like plants withered and died.   There were no drain holes in the sides of the garden beds.

We decided to move that garden bed, and when we pulled it apart,  we noticed the fine roots that had massed themselves in the litter trays, the wicking system was working to a point. Excess rain water would have gone through to the ground.

The main reason for doing this experiment is that I liked the thought of having the natural worms and soil biota.

I feel that those who do not wish to use plastic sheeting, may have the option of using china or glass dishes as wet receptacles, or terracotta, buried under the soil.  There could be an option to have different levels within the growing area in the bed, for the containers,  i.e. shallow rooted plants and also wet zones for taro and water loving plants.  You would have to remember where the different depth containers were located I suppose. 

Close growing tree roots could be a problem.  

Most of my garden plants and trees are in wicking bins, which are very similar to what Elaine and Elaine are doing, and it is very successful thus far.

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Often we hear or read that wicking pots/beds, are filled with soil. But this can be misleading for the beginner.

The word "soil" is used more in the sense of growing medium, because most gardeners do not use garden soil at all for this application. Some use commercial  potting mix (containing predominantly composted bark) others make their own mix. If you making your mix remember to include 2/3 stable material that will not break down or slump in a hurry like coarse sand, coal ash, bark, forest mulch etc. The remaining 1/3 can be compost . After a few months when you notice some slump top up with compost.

When using plastic sheeting make sure you are using HDPE (the milk bottles are PE) and not PVC film that is not recommended for food crops.

George, Thanks for your advice regarding wicking pots/beds.   Do you use a wicking bed system?   The base of this garden bed was the natural soil that my garden is made up of, but the filling for the wicking bed was commercial bagged premium potting mix and manure, plus the usual additives, seaweed solution, organic mulch, etc.  I would love to use more natural products, but cost of suitable materials would make it too expensive for this pensioner. 

With the HDPE sheeting, I have found it to be very expensive to use.  Do you know of a supplier of HDPE wicking crates or bins suitable for wicking containers.  I am not sure of the material that my bins are made of, but they were used for food products previously. 

Bunnings has "Grunt" brand extra heavy duty builders film for sale. I think the 2m x 5m is the smallest roll they sale. The thickness is 200um (0.2mm).  I myself have occasionally 100L wicking pots for sale. Made from HDPE aka blue plastic drums.

A great experiment, Christa! I get that issue of the natural soil inhabitants being absent from conventional wicking beds. That's where we have to add them ourselves. And where a worm tower for example, will be a vital ingredient in keeping all the littlies thriving.

Knowing when the reservoirs are full is a tricky thing especially without a visible overflow.

One of the many challenges for pot culture (and wicking beds are pots on steroids) is keeping a cool root run. Few plants enjoy having hot roots apparently. Shading the bed somehow or applying inside or outside insulation has been my solution however successful or otherwise it might be.

It's good that members of BLF have tried out variations on the wicking bed theme and have written up their results from which others may benefit.

That was well worth the try.  Great experiment. 

Awesome Christa. You're using known wicking bed configs as standard, whilst trialling permutations of wicking beds to suite your gardening, environmental and material criteria. Connecting your plant growing media to true earth may have many advantages beyond in&out biota access... soil temperature and it's many complexities and interactions with other factors springs to mind.

Thanks folks, that was visual confirmation to me, of what can be done.   The traditional method of a contained wicking area for growing, really does not need contact with the ground and may allow us to have trees grown in the air with platforms underneath.

But I do not really know what contact with the earth for growing, really  means.  We know that lightning affects the ground and the things growing in it. Rainwater and movement of minerals with rain etc. Other plants and shrubs growing with root contact, may make a difference. 

My garden contains a lot of containers with (not veggies) trees and soon I will have the dilemma of a lot of top growth and contained roots.   Learning the habits of growth in fruiting trees will be an experience for me, and as Elaine says, you are in control with the secateurs.  Feeling a bit guilty about controlling the growth of natural things though.  I will just have to think of myself as a big bug. 

I will still grow the things that we put on our wraps for lunch, such as radishes, shallots, parsley, tiny tomatoes etc.    So these will be my experimental pots and bins. 

By the way, I just purchased a clove tree, it seems that clove oil has many uses in gardening, as a natural weed killer with vinegar, so another experiment is coming up. 

Clove oil is a precursor to make drugs Clove oil is mostly eugenol lots of plant material  if you try and import can run into this problem Safrole is a phenylpropene. It is a colorless or slightly yellow oily liquid typically extracted from the root-bark or the fruit of sassafras

sassafras used in root beer.

Wow, scary stuff, Jeff, I am not into that stuff, I had to google to see what you meant.  I just thought I could add some clove leaves to vinegar to kill a pest weed that keeps coming up everywhere.  It is not illegal to buy clove oil is it?

 They use clove oil to sedate fish  so is probably not illegal to buy  but think its harder to purchase  and getting through customs could be a problem  if you try to import.

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